Whatever the Holy See does to correct the problem of clerical sexual abuse it is never enough for the Holy Office of The Holier Than Thou Media — the editorial department of the New York Times. That bastion of sexual propriety has used the codification of norms dealing with “grave offences” by Catholics to once again attack the Vatican for not doing things exactly the way the high priests of the media would like.

Said yesterday’s editorial sniffily:


They doubled the internal statute of limitations to 20 years for
defrocking abusers. Yet they failed to emphasize the problem as a state
crime as the American bishops did after being forced to dismiss more
than 700 priests. “It’s not for canonical legislation to get itself
involved with civil law,” one prelate airily declared, insisting Rome’s
existing “guidelines” — not mandates — are sufficient for prelates to
obey civil laws. 

So what? It is perfectly clear from everything that Rome has said on the subject recently that if the state treats sex abuse as a crime then that is what it is. The Church, in its own language, calls it a grave offence (in the category of “delicta graviora”). Either way the penalties now can be severe. Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s
Promoter of Justice, said at the press briefing:


“If state law requires reporting, we must absolutely obey. No excuses.
If the law allows the victim to decide whether to report or not, we
must respect the legislature’s decision.”

And isn’t upping the statute of limitations to 20 years — or more — worth more than an airy passing nod?

The fact that the norms in question include several different offences (including heresy, apostasy and
schism) may have produced some genuine puzzlement — especially since only one of the others, attempted ordination of women, was given any coverage in most news reports. In a temperate critique a Guardian blogger calls it a “PR catastrophe”. Well, everyone knows by now that the Vatican’s expertise is in doctrine, not PR.

Nevertheless, the NY Times goes to the arch-dissenter groupies, We Are Church, for some highly predictable shock-horror reaction:


But what astonished many Catholics was the inclusion of the
attempt to ordain women in a list of the “more grave delicts,” or
offenses, which included pedophilia, as well as heresy, apostasy and
schism. The issue, some critics said, was less the ordination of women,
which is not discussed seriously inside the church hierarchy, but the
Vatican’s suggestion that pedophilia is a comparable crime in a document
billed a response to the sexual abuse crisis.


“It is very irritating that they put the increased severity in
punishment for abuse and women’s ordination at the same level,” said
Christian Weisner, the spokesman for “We Are Church,” a liberal Catholic
reform movement founded in 1996 in response to a high-profile sexual abuse
case in Austria
. “It tells us that the church still
understands itself as an environment dominated by men.”  

Who, apart from notorious dissenters, are these “many Catholics”?

Kica Perez Warnisher gives further background to the norms:

The Vatican has revised its procedures for handling priestly sex
abuse cases, streamlining  disciplinary measures, extending the statute
of limitations and defining child pornography as an act of sexual abuse
of a minor. These changes allow the church to deal with such abuse more
rapidly and effectively, often through dismissal of the offending cleric
from the priesthood.

The Vatican also updated its list of the “more grave crimes”
against the church law, called “delicta graviora” including for the
first time the “attempted sacred ordination of a woman” In such an act,
it said, the cleric and the woman involved are automatically
excommunicated, and the cleric can also be dismissed from the

Even though the Vatican has moved decisively to eradicate the crime
of sex abuse by clergy, much of the mainstream media, as well as
feminist and leftist Catholic groups, are instead focusing their
attention on the inclusion of the attempted ordination of women amongst
the “delicta graviora” under Church law.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official in the Vatican’s doctrinal
congregation has stated that including the two offenses in the same
document “is not putting everything into one basket”. “They are in the
same document but this does not put them on the same level or assign
them the same gravity, ” explained Scicluna.

“There are two types of “delicta graviora”: those concerning the
celebration of the sacraments, and those concerning morals. The two
types are essentially different and their gravity is on different

Scicluna also explained the Church recognizes a key distinction
between sexual abuse and the attempted ordination of women that in
effect puts them into separate categories. “Sexual abuse and pornography
are more grave derelicts, they are an egregious violation of moral
law,” he said, whereas, “Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on
another level, it is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic
faith on the sacramental orders.”

The new document actually changes very little when it comes to
the issue of the ordination of women, which has long been viewed by the
Church as a serious crime worthy of excommunication for all parties
involved. “The Catholic Church through its long and constant teaching
holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a
fact which cannot be changed despite changing times,”

The new norms merely formalize the punishment for, as well as the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s jurisdiction over, such
violations of Church law.

The Catholic Church says that its teachings on the male-only
priesthood are based upon the example of Jesus Christ, who chose only
men to be among the 12 apostles (who the Church views as the first
priests and bishops), as well as the fact that the priest is intended to
be an “alter Christus,” or a stand-in for Christ, who was a man.
However, even in reiterating Church teaching against women in the
priesthood in 1994, Pope John Paul II stated that, “The presence and the
role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not
linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and

But while critics of the Church are focusing their energies, and
criticisms, on the provisions on women’s ordination, others are praising
the new norms to deal with sex abuse. 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet